It’s Really Time to Envision the End for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay

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Because professional football contract negotiations must follow a complicated dance played through anonymous national media leaks—rather than having both sides publicly explain what it is they’d like from all of this, allow us to translate Tuesday’s updated news item (via Adam Schefter) that Aaron Rodgers turned down a “a two-year contract extension that would have tied him to Green Bay for five more seasons and made him the highest-paid QB and player in football”:

Remember? We tried! Honest!

Of course, we don’t know what that extension looked like (while Rodgers turning down a contract extension was known, the news itself provided more detail on the length and supposed heft of the pact that was rejected but not its substance). It could have been the contractual equivalent of a cardboard-bottomed boat, which may be why Rodgers’s agent recommended he toss it out the window while driving down Washington boulevard in Culver City. An offer is one thing. An ironclad declaration that they would keep him here for half a decade more with no escape hatch is another. Maybe Rodgers prefers this kind of stranglehold.

Or, maybe Tuesday’s news means what we knew it could all along but never thought possible; that we should actually, possibly, quite seriously prepare for a season that does not include Rodgers at all. While the anonymous media dance is sometimes hard to follow, even for those wrapped up in the tango, a white flag being raised a week before the start of training camp says all it needs to say.

Time to throw organizational weight behind the Jordan Love hype train, organizational dirt on the player who isn’t showing up and pray fans still show up to shovel them out of the stadium on cold, snowy days. Tuesday’s move had its intended effect, with multiple popular web sites gleefully characterizing the tidbit in headlines as Rodgers turning down a contract that would make him the highest paid player in NFL history without knowing exactly what that might mean, or how the Packers intended on doing so. This posits him as greedy to the fan base, one of the more powerful—if deceptive—weapons a team has at its disposal during disputes of this nature. The longer this pattern holds, with breadcrumbs dating back to June when the team’s highest-ranking executive suggested that there was a portion of the fan base that would be fine moving on from Rodgers, the less likely it will be to see a private jet landing in Brown County.

What makes this different, you might ask, than any other public holdout that seems to reach its crescendo just before training camp, only to deescalate at the moment one side blinks and signs on the dotted line? Down in Dallas, for example, Jerry Jones has made these things an art form, a gleeful spectacle. He pretends not to know his players’ names. He rambles onto interview sets and insists the Cowboys will be just fine without ol’ so and so, knowing full well that he’ll open his checkbook a few weeks later on a quiet day when his pearly whites can dominate the news cycle. Jerry Reese, the former Giants general manager, liked to talk about the times he had breakfast with flustered holdout Osi Umenyiora at a diner down the street from the facility, joking about the turbulent headlines supposedly detailing their animus toward one another. It makes us all feel a little dumber having fallen for it again, as if we’re unaware of the time loop we’ve been stuck in, where the pattern remains the same and all that changes is the name of the player.

Throughout this particular dance, the only insistence from Rodgers’s side was that money was no object. And if it secretly is, Rodgers will have a hard time using the folksy, R-E-L-A-X bit to a fanbase that may be starting to see through him a little, especially now. Save for firing the general manager and team president, it seems as though nothing would make Rodgers happy unless he’s dealt. That return fire from his camp has remained as consistent and unwavering as anything.

So we’ve arrived here, where it seems like soon no one will feel much like dancing anymore. In a perfect world where we don’t have to do this, we’d have a fuller picture of the chasm’s size. Rodgers doesn’t want to play in Green Bay anymore because “it’s just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way.”

What does that mean? Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

The Packers believe it can be fixed. How have they tried to fix it? Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

The only thing we can know for sure is that floating out a news item that ultimately couches your star player as ungrateful and out of touch with the stumbling economy beneath him is not typically among the most amenable ways to solve this problem. It’s a defense mechanism. A shield. This is the part where the song ends and both sides will be left to find other partners, convincing themselves that they did all they could, when really all they did was dance around the problem.

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In Blacklisting A U.S. College, Russia Shutters A Program That Bridged An International Divide

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College in the United States, was awaiting the publication of his video tribute to Lyudmila Verbitskaya, his late counterpart at St. Petersburg State University (SPSU) in Russia, when he received news that the pioneering dual degree program the two scholars had conceived in 1994 was coming to an abrupt end.

Three years after the Soviet collapse, Bard and SPSU joined forces to launch SPSU’s Arts and Humanities course, Russia’s first liberal arts curriculum, informally known as Smolny College. Hundreds of Russian and American students took part in its academic exchange program, and Smolny graduates received two diplomas – one from Bard, and one from SPSU.

But on June 21, less than two weeks before Smolny students gathered for their graduation ceremony, The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office declared Bard an “undesirable” organization representing “a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order.” The Justice Ministry formalized the designation nine days later, suddenly making any involvement with the school a potential crime.

“I was shocked. We had been working collaboratively with our Russian colleagues for more than 25 years,” Botstein said in an interview by videolink from the Bard campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, north of New York City. “We operated entirely in good faith about building an educational program, and had remarkable success.”

When Smolny students stepped on stage on July 3 in a colonnaded hall of the 18th-century building that houses their university, they were handed only one diploma. The Bard degree, a gateway to further study and career prospects abroad for many gifted Russian students, was denied them with two weeks’ notice.

“Everyone is upset,” said Liza Skorobogatova, a member of this year’s graduating class who planned to continue her studies in the United States. “A Bard diploma would have made it easier to gain admission abroad. Of course, I’ll be writing in all my applications that I spent a semester at Bard, but that won’t replace a Bard diploma.”

The effective end of the Bard-Smolny partnership comes at a time of heightened political tensions both within Russia and between Russia and the United States. Half of the 40 organizations Russia has declared “undesirable” are American – though Bard is the first educational institution to be blacklisted – and expulsions of U.S. embassy staff have slowed the process of issuing visas to a crawl. A crackdown on opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s government, as well as civil society and independent media outlets, has intensified ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Interviews with more than a dozen Bard and Smolny teachers, staff, and former and current students – many of whom asked to speak anonymously because of the risks of being affiliated with an “undesirable” organization – highlight the effects this political decision will have on a study program that facilitated a rare exchange of ideas between citizens of countries whose leaderships are deeply at odds. Some students see themselves as collateral in a great power game whose scale they struggle to fathom.

“For many Russian students, this was the first step to an international education,” said Ilya Utekhin, a sociology professor who has given lectures at Smolny for over 15 years. “Now all this is gone.”

A Radical Break From Soviet Teaching

When it launched in 1998, Smolny College was a radical break from the legacy of Soviet academia. In the liberal arts system, students engage in a broad course of study including politics, economics, and history, a far cry from the intense singular specialization that underpinned education in the U.S.S.R., which produced some world-class scientists and mathematicians but stifled progress in other disciplines due to its submission to Marxist dogma.

Bard helped fund the program and ran it jointly with SPSU, but former teachers at Smolny say it was never a purely American import. Classes were in Russian, and the curriculum prioritized skills and knowledge applicable to a career in Russia.

“There was a feeling that Russian education needed serious reforms,” said Nikolai Koposov, Smolny’s dean from 1998 to 2009, who now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. “Bard had a strong sense of mission, and they wanted us to be as close to their model as possible. But they also understood that we can’t create an imitation version of them.”

Smolny maintained its close ties with Bard even as it forged its own identity, despite worsening relations between the United States and Putin’s government especially since 2014, when Russia was slapped with Western sanctions for seizing Crimea and fomenting war in eastern Ukraine. Until the pandemic limited international travel, Botstein would visit Smolny every year to give a commencement speech and personally hand graduates their Bard diplomas.

Bard accepted around 70 Smolny students annually at its campus in upstate New York, and several dozen students from Bard and other American colleges and universities spent semesters at Smolny, whose campus housed a dedicated “American corner” that brought the U.S. visitors together with Russian students for lively discussions and language practice.

American students spent their semesters absorbing the best that Russia’s cultural capital had to offer, going to museums and performances, interacting with peers, and unpacking a complex country. Gina Lentine, a former Bard student, recalled her parents’ visit to St. Petersburg during her semester at Smolny in 2008. “They realized this is a country that has a real heritage and culture, that these are people just like us, with the same quotidian struggles,” she said. “They told me: ‘Had you not studied here, we would never have come and gained this perspective.’”

The Bard-Smolny project was itself the product of Russophiles. The 74-year-old Botstein, a historian who has been Bard president since 1975 and also serves as chief conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, is the son of Russian-speaking Jewish émigrés from Eastern Europe. He was taught to read and write Russian by his grandfather, and in conversation he rattles off the names of famous Russian composers, writers, and scholars.

“Reading Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Gogol, I never thought I’d see any of the places [they wrote about]. They were off-limits, only known through the memories of émigrés,” he said. He recalled walking the streets of St. Petersburg “in wonderment and astonishment” during his first trip to the Soviet Union, in June 1987. In practicing Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, members of Bard’s orchestra learn about the Siege of Leningrad and read Vasily Grossman’s books about the Soviet campaign in World War II, a key pillar of Putin’s symbolic politics.

Growing Scrutiny

Even as U.S.-Russia ties frayed, Smolny endured as other bilateral projects closed. In 2014, Russia pulled out of the American high school exchange program FLEX after a Russian teenager sought asylum in the United States on the grounds that he faced persecution as a homosexual in Russia. In Russia, academics were subjected to increasing rules on communicating with the press and with foreign institutions, and some have engaged in self-censorship to avoid criminal liability.

The Higher School of Economics in Moscow, one of Russia’s best universities, was forced to side with the authorities last year in disciplining an outspoken student and to close its student newspaper, whose editors were detained in April after police raided their homes.

“I’m not getting the sense that there’s any kind of wider signal saying ‘That’s it, we need to lock our scholars away from their Western counterparts,’” said Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at University College London’s School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies . “But obviously individual institutions may well feel the need to plan for worst-case scenarios.”

But as a clampdown on dissent grew in Russia, unorthodox schools like Smolny were attracting the attention of nationalist groups tacitly backed by the Kremlin, which railed against it as a bastion of what senior officials now routinely cast as dangerous Western-style liberalism.

In 2009, law professor Nikolai Kropachev was appointed by presidential decree to become rector of SPSU. Two years later, Smolny College was turned into a full-fledged Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, appointing as its dean then-Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a Putin ally and fellow SPSU graduate who is one of the most powerful liberal-leaning politicians in Russia. Smolny had gained the reputation of a renegade school within SPSU, and Kropachev commenced a strict review of its curriculum. Critics say he also actively sought to circumscribe its autonomy.

“Smolny always demonstrated independence, and this is something that Kropachev never accepted,” said Dmitry Dubrovsky, who taught at Smolny from 2002 until his dismissal in 2015, which he blamed on a long-running dispute with Kropachev. Kropachev declined an interview request for this article.

Kudrin lobbied for Smolny to break away from SPSU and become a separate university, and in March of this year, he announced that the government had finally approved the request. A few weeks later, on April 1, Bard announced a new $500 million investment from billionaire financier George Soros, a friend of Botstein’s and a longstanding Bard benefactor.

Two of Soros’s organizations, Open Society Foundations and OSI Assistance Foundation, were declared ‘undesirable’ by Russia in 2015, shortly after the law criminalizing such groups was passed by parliament. Soros donated large amounts of money to support education in Russia in the years after the Soviet collapse, but Bard says no Soros money has gone to Smolny since 2015.

‘Clarion Call’

It’s unclear how big a role either of those developments played in the events that followed, but after Bard’s announcement, Anton Tsvetkov, the head of an obscure organization called the Coordination Council on Nonprofit Organizations and the former leader of a pro-Kremlin movement, gathered a group of conservative public figures in Moscow for a press conference about Soros and his alleged influence on the Russian education system.

Protests across Russia in January and early February had prompted a massive crackdown on the Russian opposition and civil society groups, and Tsvetkov’s event – in line with unsubstantiated claims by Putin and other Russian officials – portrayed foreign chicanery as the reason for Russia’s unrest. The backdrop to his opening speech was a collage featuring a Trojan horse painted in the stars and stripes of the American flag and an image of Soros – a prominent target of false conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic rhetoric – with his hands clasped together.

Bard was declared ‘undesirable’ two months later, and the following day, Kropachev’s deputy Sergei Andryushin sent a letter to Bard College notifying its management that all cooperation and existing agreements between SPSU and the American institution were being unilaterally halted.

Vitaly Milonov, a socially conservative lawmaker from St. Petersburg who is a critic of the West and joined Tsvetkov’s press conference via videolink, told RFE/RL without giving details that Bard “is a college created specially to advance certain ideas that differ from the curriculum accepted in Russia.” He added: “People from various foundations think that by virtue of some U.S. exceptionalism they have the right to unconditionally export their ideas.”

State news agency RIA reported that Tsvetkov’s group had petitioned Russia’s Prosecutor-General to investigate Smolny over its alleged ties to “foreign NGOs under the control of George Soros” and “destructive activities on Russian territory.” It was this appeal, according to an investigation by the news outlet Meduza, that prompted authorities to label Bard “undesirable.”

The decision most likely did not come from the Kremlin, Galeotti believes. “It’s more that the Kremlin won’t step in to save Smolny,” he said. “The machine has its own momentum,” with freelance actors advancing the state’s preferred narrative “because they feel that they have heard the clarion call, and they want to make damn sure that they demonstrate that they are responsive to what they assume the Kremlin wants them to do.”

‘They Cannot Imagine How Precious This Is’

Few of the Smolny students interviewed by RFE/RL seemed to dwell on the motives. For most, the practical consequences came first. When news of Bard’s prohibition surfaced, confusion took hold. Many had merchandise with the Bard name and logo, and wondered if they can continue to display it, both online and offline. Some took to social media to express their support for the American partner school; others kept quiet for fear of making things worse.

When Dubrovsky and two other teachers were fired from Smolny in 2015, dozens of students staged one-person pickets outside St. Petersburg State University and hundreds signed a petition calling for their reinstatement.

This time, a consensus was reached that any form of street protest would bring more harm than good, students say, and comments in support of an “undesirable” organization could lead to fines and even jail. It was a sign of how dramatically the political landscape, and the costs of dissent, had changed.

“We understood that we would only worsen the situation,” one student said. “And our actions would be used for political propaganda, to drive home the idea that Smolny is advocating protest.”

For Utekhin, Bard’s designation hit close to home not only because he teaches at Smolny but because the decision dashed the hopes of his daughter, who studies there and was looking forward to spending a semester at the U.S. college next year. “She had prepared herself to go to Bard, and this was one of the most attractive things about the program,” he said. “For her, this [situation] is now one more reason to start asking me: ‘Why do we go on living in this country?’”

He believes the authorities fail to appreciate the benefits that a joint program like Bard-Smolny could bring to Russia.

“They cannot imagine how precious it is. People who are able to express themselves and are not inhibited and possess critical thinking – they are the most important contribution to the future of this country,” Utekhin said. “Russia can have people like this, but they appear spontaneously in spite of the efforts of the education system. [Smolny] is one the few places where they are created.”

On July 7, he added his signature to an open letter written by Smolny teachers and addressed to their counterparts at Bard, expressing remorse over Russia’s decision to effectively sever their ties and denouncing a move that “goes against Russian national interest and deprives our students [of the] better future that they deserve.”

Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and author who teaches at Bard and regularly travels to report from Russia, told RFE/RL this month that they had been advised not to visit Russia due to the lack of clarity over their possible legal liability as the employee of an ‘undesirable’ organization.

“There’s a nonnegligible probability that I would come to Russia and discover that I actually have a criminal case against me,” Gessen said. On June 28, a week after Bard’s designation, Putin signed a law that makes it illegal for Russian citizens abroad to participate in the work of NGOs declared ‘undesirable’ in Russia.

A Hope Of The Post-Cold War World

Smolny is forging ahead with the goal of spinning off from SPSU and establishing a separate university. Koposov, Smolny’s founding dean, said that Kudrin has long hoped to secure independence for the college because he felt the pressure from SPSU was growing excessive. Since Smolny’s founding, three Russian universities have launched liberal arts programs, paving the way for the model to spread. But whether Smolny survives, Koposov said, “will depend in large part on whether Kudrin survives in power.”

Kudrin, who was finance minister from 2000 to 2011 and now heads Russia’s Audit Chamber, was not available to comment for this article, but a source close to him said in e-mailed comments that the “situation is very sad.”

“Our goal is the creation of a new university and we’re trying not to jeopardize this goal with our actions,” including speaking to the press, this person said.

Denis Yesaulov, a spokesman for Kudrin, told Meduza that a new Smolny university would sever ties with Bard but “cooperate with leading Russian and foreign universities.”

Gessen said the campaign against Bard reflects the Russian government’s broader aversion to allowing any institutions to flourish outside its control.

Alleged Pennsylvania Serial Killer Charged with Murder in Battle Creek Cold Case

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Murder charges were issued related to the disappearance of a pregnant Battle Creek woman who went missing 16 years ago.

After more than 16 years, the man believed to be responsible for Ashley Parlier’s disappearance is being charged with Premeditated Homicide 1st-Degree Murder.

Ashley Marie Parlier went missing 16 years ago on June 12, 2005, from her home in the City of Battle Creek. Her family believed she was pregnant at the time of her disappearance. Her parents reported her missing to the Battle Creek Police Department. Ashley has never been located. Earlier this year, detectives were contacted by Pennsylvania law enforcement regarding Ashley’s disappearance.

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Pennsylvania law enforcement had a suspect in custody for other murders and he provided them with details regarding Ashley’s disappearance and the possible location of her body, in the north section of Newton Township. Calhoun County detectives, along with multiple other agencies, searched a wooded area in Newton Township south of the City of Battle Creek. This is the first of two searches that were conducted in that general area. Ashley’s body was not located.

Calhoun County detectives traveled to several different states interviewing possible witnesses to this case. Calhoun County detectives eventually traveled to Pennsylvania and interviewed Harold David Haulman III, a 42-year-old Pennsylvania resident, formerly of Battle Creek, Michigan. Haulman’s family worked for the U.S. Government and he lived in different locations, specifically in Battle Creek from (Fall 2002 to approximately mid-2009) During the interview with detectives, Haulman confessed to arguing with Ashley at a home in Emmett Township. He indicated he had assaulted her, knocking her unconscious. He then drove her to a remote area in Newton Township where he struck her in the head several times with a piece of wood until she was dead and later discarded the blood-covered clothing that he wore at the time.

Haulman is currently in custody in Pennsylvania for two additional murders. One occurred on approximately June 13, 2018, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and the second occurred on December 4, 2020, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He served jail time related to a death on May 29, 1999, in Ramstein, Germany.

During the detectives’ investigation, they also found through a forensic social media search that Haulman had researched material related to serial killers and grave robbing.

In early June of this year, Haulman again agreed to assist detectives in locating Ashley’s body. He was flown from Pennsylvania to Battle Creek where he was transported by detectives in an attempt to locate the area where the murder occurred, although the area has changed over the 16-year period they were again unable to locate her body.

Calhoun County Sheriff’s detectives submitted a request of charges to the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office. The Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant for Harold David Haulman III for Homicide 1st Degree Murder Premeditated of Ashley Parlier. Haulman is currently being held in Pennsylvania for the two additional murders in Luzerne County.

I’m pleased to say that after 16 years, Ashley Parlier’s family can know that justice is near. This investigation could not have been successful without the joint assistance from the Battle Creek Police, Michigan State Police, FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, US Veterans Affairs Police, US Air Force OSI and the Calhoun County Prosecutors Office. This case is not over. Detectives will still be working additional information to locate Ashley. ~Calhoun County Sheriff Steve Hinkley

Anyone with information or details, or who knew Harold David Haulman III or Ashley Parlier is asked to contact Calhoun County Sheriff Detectives at 269-781-0880.

Ashley’s parents both passed away in 2020 never giving up their search for Ashley. Ashley’s sister Nicole Campen then carried on with the family’s pursuit for answers and justice.

We got our indictment! I will be at his (Haulman’s) trial and in Pennsylvania to attend Haulman’s sentencing. My family is thrilled the detectives from Michigan and Pennsylvania built such a strong case and they all worked diligently. This was 16 years in the making and I wish my parents could be alive to hear this news. ~Ashley’s sister Nicole Campen